Tag Archives: Star Trek

Lesson #15: People with facial hair are probably evil.

This lesson is long overdue. I must credit this one to the original Star Trek series and to Spock specifically, unless any of you have a precursor to the “Mirror, Mirror “ episode from 1967.  In general, facial hair denotes evil.  Just look at the devil, or Hitler. Moreover, well-groomed facial hair is somehow more sinister and calculating than its bushy counterpart.

Of course, there  have been many takes on this theme since the Star Trek crew was accidentally transported to an evil mirror universe during an ion storm.  In Fringe, Fauxlivia (the seemingly evil, but then maybe just misunderstood version of Olivia from an alternate universe) has red hair, compared to Olivia’s blonde hair. In South Park, the bearded Cartman from an alternate universe turns out to be the good Cartman, while the character we know is non-bearded and evil (’Spookyfish,”  1998).  In Futurama, Flexo is a questionably evil version of Bender, who looks and sounds just like Bender except for the addition of a goatee. It’s unclear which one is truly more evil. I’m sure that there are dozens of evil facial-haired villains out there I’m not remembering right now. Can you help?

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Lesson #9: Most aliens are bipedal.

The Breen from Star Trek

The Breen from Star Trek

Along with speaking English, most intelligent aliens look a remarkable amount like humans.  It is amazing that creatures developed so similarly, even though we lived in different planets and different galaxies.  Even the Breen, a species in Star Trek whose bodies are never seen except completely encased in suits, are bipedal.  The Breen are mysterious, with only guesses regarding why they were the suits and what they look like underneath.  They seem so foreign, yet at the same time, so similar in their two-legged-ness.  Not only are they bipedal, but like humans, they also have two arms and one head.  I know that the Alien Actors Guild (AAG!) only allows bipedal aliens to join, making it extremely difficult for film or television to employ non-bipedal creatures.  However, producers could make more effort towards equal representation of the non-bipedal variety.

Jabba the Hut from Star Wars

Jabba the Hut from Star Wars

Most of the time, creatures with more or less than two legs have only served as peripheral characters in film and television, barely seen at all. When they are present, they are often evil villains, like Jabba the Hut in Star Wars. Jabba was very resistant to taking the role at all, but claimed that even a negative presence in the media was better than no visibility for his species.  Jabba has not only had to overcome earthlings’ bias towards the non-legged, but also bias towards his glandular disorder and weight issues.

Pilot from Farscape

Pilot from Farscape

Farscape does the best job so far on Earth at including aliens with multiple extremities in major and positive roles.  Pilot is one of the few non-bipedal aliens to serve as a main character.  Moya, the spaceship, is also without legs, although with great propulsion, and is a major element in the show.  Indeed, the series could not exist without some form of Moya.  I hope she asked for a raise.   Although Rygel XVI isn’t exactly without two legs, the fact that the deposed Hynerian leader flies around on his Thronesled most of the time, rarely walking or showing his legs, makes him appear non-bipedal at times.

Shows are making progress towards the inclusion of more or less legs.  However, it will be a long time before the leggy or leggless creatures feel accepted in the hearts of earthlings.

Lesson #7: The cuter something is, the more dangerous it may be.

It seems that characters in sci-fi programs have not caught on to this one yet, as they keep being drawn in by the lure of cuddly creatures.  Tribbles in Star Trek (and again in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Gremlins, Ewoks in Star Wars, Nibbler in Futurama, and the newest adorable killer critter: Nubbins in Sci Fi Channel’s Sanctuary all have wrought havoc on those investigating new phenomena.  Galaxy Quest even paradied this lesson for those who still hadn’t learned it. Nubbins and Gremlins have overdone neotony, with their huge eyes and infant-like features and proportions lulling us into parental roles.  We almost have no choice.  It’s instinctual to love them, so we understand the failings of the characters to recognize the potential danger of our most huggable friends.

Of course, no fuzzy, cute animal is evil in it’s own right.  Instead, it is either incorrectly cared for or just trying to survive.  The rules of caring for these creatures are so vague it’s easy to mess them up.  When exactly can you feed a Gremlin?  Isn’t it always after midnight?  Between midnight and what can’t you feed them?  Can you feed them at 6 a.m.?  No one wanted Gizmo to spawn or potentially turn mean, the rules are just really vague, with no consequences given. Other cuddlies, like Nubbins and Tribbles, are just trying to survive. They don’t want to harm people or equipment, they just do.

The message of sci-fi is clear: Nothing that adorable can really be “evil” in any universe.  However, this level of cuteness is dangerous, working on the human and bipedal alien psyches to calm and comfort us, causing us to ignore potential dangers.  Be alert when surrounded by adorables.  Behold that golden retriever puppy with suspicion. Question its motives.  And never, ever feed it after midnight.

The sweetest creature of them all, Gizmo from Gremlins.

The sweetest creature of them all, Gizmo from Gremlins.

Lesson #5: What to do when I accidentally become invisible.

This appears to be a serious problem in science fiction. Accidentally becoming invisible is very different from becoming invisible on purpose, such as Harry Potter with his cloak of invisibility. When someone becomes invisible intentionally, usually the person knows how to become visible again. In sci fi, accidental invisibility is usually termed “out-of-phase.” When one is “out-of-phase,” the person cannot affect the world around her or him. Therefore, eventually the person will die of starvation and dehydration if the problem isn’t fixed. This is serious. Somehow, the out-of-phase-ees pass right through all matter, including walls, but do not pass through floors. Physicists are looking into the bizarre properties of floors which make them impermeable to those out-of-phase.

Make friends with Data, the clever one.

Make friends with Data, the clever one.

If this happened to you, what would you do? Since I could not affect the world around me, I would not be able to tell anyone that I was still there, instead of the common assumption that I was eaten by a space monster or vanished into a black hole. There seem to be two options in this case. First, I would take a look at the device I was messing with when I first became invisible. I may discover that it has some sort of interface to allow the out-of-phase to communicate with those in-phase. I may be able to see an entire display that those in-phase cannot see, like in Stargate SG-1. Usually, however, it will be written in an obscure alien language which I do not know. You may want to study up on alien languages in case this scenario happens, like Daniel Jackson. The device may allow some sort of direct communication with the in-phase world. In which case, if I can just get someone to look at the device, I’m saved.

In the event the device does not allow any communication, I really only have one option: hope I have smart friends. In general, surround yourself with brilliant people who will be able to figure out and fix the problem should this happen. If possible, make friends with an android. They seem to be good at deduction, like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Secondly, be consistent and reliable. If you are an unreliable person in general, people will assume you just didn’t show up. However, if an otherwise reliable person fails to appear, intelligent people will think that maybe, just maybe, you’re out-of-phase. They are your only hope.

Lesson #1: Most aliens speak English.

All sorts of aliens who can be heard in English!

All sorts of aliens who can be heard in English!

It may be British English, American English, or Australian English, but indeed, most aliens speak English. Perhaps this all began because “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” many spoke English. Maybe that’s where we learned the language from. At the time of the Stargate film in 1994, aliens in the Stargate universe did not in fact speak English. Between 1994 and the beginning of 1997 series, aliens in multiple galaxies had all learned English. Perhaps Daniel Jackson taught them while he was living on another planet or they simply heard Earthlings were coming (just the American English speaking kind) and they wanted to be prepared. I appreciate the effort, especially in such a short time.

Interestingly, the aliens I see via Doctor Who all speak British English, including the Doctor himself and the evil Daleks. In Battlestar Gallactica, they are humans, but human aliens with no contact with earth. True, they speak a frakked-up form of American, but the persistence of this language across galaxies is uncanny.

There are a few aliens out there who don’t speak English, such as all sorts of species in Star Trek and in Farscape. Apparently those crews were able to travel far enough to find areas of space that English hadn’t pervaded, at least until a wormhole brought Ben Browder and Claudia Black to Stargate Command and the world of English-speaking aliens. Oddly though, the translator microbes in Farscape gave an Australian accent to those speaking, even though the listener spoke with an American accent. What an odd translation quirk!

The tenacious Star Trek crew was able to understand alien-speak via the “universal translator.” The universal translator worked on the basic scientific principle of magic. With a click of a button, magically everyone could understand each other and the camera could record English-speak. For the uninitiated, “universal translator” is code for “writers’ pitiful attempt to deal with alien communication problems.” At least they made an attempt, albeit a sad one.

The influence of English across the universe is amazing and unbounded. With this sort of power, I don’t see how non-English speaking cultures here on Earth have any hope.